April 24, 2014

How to Foster a Creative Workspace

rbb Public Relations uses workplace design and technology to engineer collaboration.

Amy Keller | 8/1/2010

Vice President Jeanine Karp of rbb Public Relations
Jeanine Karp, Vice President of rbb Public Relations [Photo: Daniel Portnoy]

Three years ago, Christine Barney and her partners at rbb Public Relations began to evaluate their office environment. The boutique agency with one office in Coral Gables and another in Fort Lauderdale was striving to create a true "employee-driven" workplace, but after Barney and her colleagues surveyed the staff, they realized that their physical infrastructure was getting in the way of productivity.

rbb Public relations
Coral Gables
No. 4 / Small Company

"On any given day, 50% of the office was empty because people were not in their offices," Barney says. They were with clients or in meetings. "All that empty space made the office feel sleepy and was inefficient," she recalls. Most employees had private offices, but closed office doors hindered collaboration. Successful teams, she says, "need more time and places to interact."

In December 2007, after months of brainstorming with the staff, rbb rebuilt the office. The $300,000 redesign created a variety of formal and informal work and meeting spaces designed to promote creativity and teamwork. Private offices were eliminated. Workers sit at a desk in an open, shared area or can retreat to a glass-enclosed "phone booth" or meeting rooms if they need some quiet or privacy. There's a "play room" for the more creative types, where employees can kick back in a beanbag chair and listen to their iPod, and a "Starbucks-like kitchen," says Barney.

Transparency extends to the company's financial operations. "We have a very open-book policy in the firm. Our accounting meetings are open to any employee that wants to sit through them and learn more about the business end of the agency," says President Lisa Ross. She says the policy helps employees understand why the company can budget for certain things and not others.

The firm's partners — Ross, Barney and Executive Vice President Tina Elmowitz — have also fostered a culture of flexibility when it comes to employee work schedules. "Communications is a 24/7 business, and we all know we have to work nights and weekends, so having the ability to schedule personal matters during business hours provides balance and allows everyone to seamlessly integrate personal and business responsibilities," says Barney.

Having the proper technology in place also helps. Every employee is given a laptop and cell phone to use both in the office and at home. The phone system is set up so that one direct number will find employees, whether they are on their cell phone, in their home office or working out of a conference room. Employees also rely on a "where in the world is ..." intranet posting board, where they can let colleagues know that they are taking grandma to the doctor or working from home as they wait for the plumber.

Vice President Jeanine Karp says that sort of flexibility and evidence of work/life balance appealed to her when she interviewed at rbb five years ago. "What's nice was that women who all had families seemed to still be breathing. Their hair was in place, and they looked all put together and they were still having these great careers. It made sense. I thought, if they're able to do that, when I get to that stage in my future, I can still have it all, so to speak."

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